Zvezda suffocates Zenit on the road
Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade snapped a three-game losing streak by claiming a solid 58-69 road win over Zenit St Petersbourg at Sibur Arena on Friday night. The visitors had a strong start on offense, leading 16-23 after the first period, and confirmed the outcome by holding the home team to just 24 points in the following 20 minutes, good enough to build a 40-58 advantage that Zvezda never surrendered. Nate Wolters paced the winners with 14 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists, as Nikola Kalinic and Ognjen Kuzmic netted 11 points apiece to help Zvezda improve to 5-8. Jordan Mickey was the game top scorer with 16 points and Conner Frankamp added 12 for Zenit, who dropped to 8-5 with its second loss in a row.
Zvezda put on an extraordinary offensive display after the opening tip, converting their first 7 possessions to build a 6-15 edge after 6 minutes behind 9 points from big man Kuzmic. Frankamp was the only Zenit player able to score from the field until Arturas Gudaitis slammed to make get the hosts within 12-19. Zenit managed to improve under the boards, but a pair of buckets by Branko Lazic and Kalinic helped Zvezda maintain a comfortable margin, 16-23, at the end of the first quarter.
Baskets by Wolters and Ognjen Dobric extended Zvezda's lead to double-digits, 16-27, as soon as the game resumed. Even though Andrey Zubkov contributed a three-point play and Mickey scored inside to avoid an early escape by Zvezda, the visitors had already turned the game into a defensive battle in which they felt secure. Five points in a row by Wolters kept Zvezda in charge, 23-35. Lazic showed up later to convert the only triple for any team in the second quarter and Mitrovic scored a layup at the buzzer to send the game to the locker rooms with the visitors enjoying a 28-42 advantage.
That trend didn't change much after the break. Mickey and Frankamp tried to light the fuse for Zenit on offense, but Zvezda first found Wolters, then Austin Hollins stepped up to drill a corner three that raised the difference to 35-50 midway through the third period. Baskets were few and far between from then on, as a lone trey by Sergey Karasev and an inside bucket by Maik Zirbes were the only good news on offense for either team during a five-minute span. Zirbes showed up again to turn a couple of steals into uncontested baskets that put Zenit's back against the wall at 38-58. Frankamp managed to snap Zvezda's 0-8 run with a jump shot that closed the third quarter at 40-58.
Even though Zvezda needed 2 minutes of the fourth to find its first field goal on a corner three from Dobric, Zenit couldn't get it going and kept trailing by a large margin, 44-61, with 7 minutes remaining. Dobric continued to contribute on offense and Zvezda needed no one else to stay comfortably ahead, 44-65. Free throws by Jordan Loyd and Mateusz Ponitka, and 6 straight points by Mickey allowed the home team to keep believing, 54-68, but a missed three by Billy Baron and a turnover by Karasev in the final minute put the game to sleep.
Zvezda turned offense into defense
Even though Zvezda is most known for suffocating defense, its offense set the basis for the team’s second road win of the season. Zvezda aced its 7 first possessions to build a 6-15 lead after 6 minutes that turned into a 16-23 edge at the end of the first quarter. After that, the visitors switched to a more recognizable version of themselves, limiting Zenit to just 24 points over the next 20 minutes. In the same span, Zvezda forced 12 turnovers –7 of them in the third quarter – after which the visitors led 40-58. This was the second time this season Zvezda held an opponent under 60 points, after having destroyed Panathinaikos OPAP Athens 81-48 in Round 8.
Wolters reached 250 assists
In addition to leading his team in scoring with 14 points on 6-for-10 in two-point and 2-for-3 free-throw shooting, Nate Wolters completed a perfect night when he surpassed the 250-assist mark in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague. He needed just 2 dimes to reach that milestone, and he managed to make it when he assisted Branko Lazic for a three-pointer with 27 seconds to go in the second quarter. Wolters, who missed action in Rounds 10 and 11 due to injury, rejoined his team in style. He has now averaged 13.5 points, 3.5 assists and 14.0 PIR in the last two games.
Efforts of Mickey, Zubkov went for naught
Zenit St Petersburg endured a tough start of the game inside the paint as Zvezda's Ognjen Kuzmic had 9 early points and combined with Kalinic to make a difference on the offensive boards in the first quarter. Jordan Mickey and Andrey Zubkov didn't give up, though, and became the best performers of the home team by helping Zenit match Zvezda's energy inside. Mickehy finished with 16 points and 5 boards for a PIR of 18, while Zubkov neared a double-double with 9 points and 8 rebounds. He added 1 assist, 2 steals and 5 fouls drawn for a career-high PIR of 23 in his 155th EuroLeague game. Unfortunately for them, their effort didn't pay off as Zenit backcourt players could not score against Zenit's defense, making just 3 of their 19 attempts from behind the arc.
Friday, December 3, 2021